Change to permit process intends to get Pa. nursing grads into workforce more quickly

Jul. 29—HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania altered its process to get new nursing school graduates into the workforce more quickly in an effort to counter a shortage that continues to plague health care facilities.

The Department of State announced the State Board of Nursing will immediately issue temporary practice permits (TPP) once an applicant's graduation from a state nursing school is confirmed.

Registered nurse (RN) candidates will be allowed to work while they study for the licensure exam.

Data updated Thursday by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services shows 39 hospitals in Pennsylvania reported a critical staffing shortage with 26 expecting the same next week.

Pennsylvania's count was the highest in the country followed by Georgia with 33 hospitals reporting shortages, Michigan with 29 and South Carolina with 21.

Such shortages plummeted to single digits beginning in February but surged in late June as cases of COVID-19 grew, the data shows.

Vacancy rates in Pennsylvania for RNs reached 27% in late 2021, according to a survey by The Hospital and Healthsystem of Pennsylvania (HAP). Support staff vacancies for positions like certified nursing assistants reached 45% at the time, the survey found.

"This permanent change to the TPP approval process came about for multiple reasons, including the feedback we received from nursing schools, health care systems and other nurse employers, as well as from nursing applicants themselves," Acting Secretary of the Commonwealth Leigh M. Chapman said.

"We see this improvement as one way to help ease the nursing shortage across Pennsylvania," Chapman said, adding that 570 nursing graduates were recently issued TPPs.

Liam Migdail, a spokesperson for HAP, said licensing delays are among the most pressing issues identified by the organization's members. He said hospitals throughout Pennsylvania are reporting a backlog of potential nursing hires due to licensure holdups.

"These improvements will help more new nursing graduates stay in Pennsylvania and quickly begin careers they are passionate about. Most importantly, this means more nurses will be at bedsides faster at a time when they are severely needed to care for Pennsylvanians," Migdail said.

Criminal history reviews previously conducted before the issuance of TPPs will now occur as part of the full licensure process. Also, the department automated certain processes through its licensing system that had previously been manual.

Full licensure takes 8 to 10 weeks, according to the Department of State.

However, an NPR analysis found that more than half of the 12,000 nurses who were issued licenses to work in Pennsylvania in 2021 waited for three months or longer to get them.

Wayne Reich Jr., chief executive officer, Pennsylvania State Nurses Association, said the organization was pleased with the change for TPPs and that more efficiency improvements are needed. He pointed to a Joint State Government Commission report from April on license processing times that made multiple recommendations including hiring more staff for the Board of Nursing, the creation of a nursing task force and publishing nursing board data on workforce levels.

"A task that once took weeks should happen much quicker with the new process," Reich said of the streamlined TPP process.

"The State Board needs to work on other processes, particularly related to the implementation of the Nurse Licensure Compact that was signed into law over a year ago. This would allow for nurses to practice in multiple compact states under one license," he said.